Cityfront: Getting things moving

Beit Hakerem residents take their transportation complaints straight to City Hall.

beit hakerem demo (photo credit: Courtesy)
beit hakerem demo
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Dozens of Beit Hakerem residents arrived at City Hall last week to voice their anger over canceled bus lines in their neighborhood, a result of the ongoing track work for Jerusalem's light rail, planned to open in 2010. But as they stood in a long line at the front door's metal detector, word filtered through the crowd that they would not be admitted inside. The chamber was full, and there wasn't any room for arriving residents, the majority of them senior citizens, to come in and speak their mind. "Write this down!" yelled one of the angry residents. "Bring [Jerusalem Mayor] Uri Lupolianski down here and let him tell us that he doesn't want to see us." The longtime Jerusalemites are incensed over the cancellation of bus lines 14 and 6, which has caused major disruptions for elderly, retired couples who live in Beit Hakerem and Ramat Beit Hakerem. "Some 'rama!'" said Ruth Abu, making a play on words of the name of her neighborhood, Ramat Beit Hakerem, in which "rama" refers to heights or high places. "We can't even get to the shuk. I have to switch buses at the central bus station, and walk from one bus to the other." Other residents complained of similar scenarios, one yelling out that he couldn't get to his dentist. The city's promises of better transportation with the arrival of the light rail made little impression on those standing in front of City Hall. "They said they were making renovations," one resident said. "But what kind of renovation is this? Every neighborhood in this city has access to downtown, or to the mall, except for ours." Many of these residents feel as though Beit Hakerem and Ramat Beit Hakerem, two of Jerusalem's dwindling secular neighborhoods, are being dealt with unfairly by a City Hall they see as controlled by haredim. "Who can we talk to?" one woman asked. "They're all dosim [religious] in there." Still, the municipal spokesman's office told In Jerusalem that the disruptions in bus service stemmed solely from work being done for the light rail. A replacement for bus Nos. 14 and 6, No. 5, has been put in place to service Beit Hakerem, but residents argue this is a poor substitute. "The No. 5 takes us to the central bus station, but what are we supposed to do from there?" one resident asked. Residents who take the No. 5 must get off at the central bus station, and then walk to connecting buses, without a transfer. Even though the light rail is the excuse, these Beit Hakerem residents see themselves locked in a battle for their city, and this as a move to squeeze them a little more. "If I was younger, I would get up and leave this town," said Leah Nechama, a longtime Beit Hakerem resident, who said she had come to let her voice be heard. "We pay the highest taxes in the city," said Benny Sharit, 73. "If this continues, we are going to take action, and stop paying. They should come and fix this, and restore our bus lines." But Egged argues that the light rail work will go on, and if those lines were restored, they would simply hit traffic jams and delays. "I can also assure you that Egged has never discriminated against any neighborhood," an Egged spokeswoman told IJ. "We've given the same attention to secular neighborhoods that we do religious ones, and this situation will continue until the train work is done."